Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sara Jane Olson to serve parole in Minnesota

Sara Jane Olson to serve parole in Minnesota
8:33 AM March 17, 2009

Sara Jane Olson, a former member of the Symbionese Liberation Army who tried to assassinate Los Angeles police officers by placing pipe bombs under squad cars more than 30 years ago, was released on parole today, state corrections officials announced.

Olson, 62, was known as Kathleen Soliah during her SLA days. She was released shortly after midnight from Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla, authorities said. She was released to the custody of two state parole agents, who took her to a parole office in Madera County, where she was processed and was met by her husband, said Department of Corrections spokeswoman Terry Thornton.

Her parole will be supervised in Minnesota, where she is planning to live near her family, though she is still under California authority and is subject to conditions of parole in both states, Thornton said.

Los Angeles police officials said they were "extremely disappointed" by the decision to let Olson leave California and criticized Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for not intervening in the matter.

“We believe the governor should have used his discretion in this matter to ensure Olson stay under the watch of California authorities as she finished out her sentence," said President Paul M. Weber of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union that represents the LAPD's rank-and-file officers.

Olson was convicted in 1975 in Los Angeles County for attempting to kill two Los Angeles Police Department officers with pipe bombs.

"It was Los Angeles police officers she attempted to blow up,” Weber said. “She hasn't paid her full debt until she completes parole. Parole allows people to be released from prison earlier than their full sentence, under the theory that their re-integration into society will be monitored.

"If they violate any rules on parole," he continued, "they will be returned to prison. By returning to Minnesota, this gives her a free pass on the balance of time that she should serve.”

-- Andrew Blankstein and Ari B. Bloomekatz
March 17, 2009, 9:15 am

Former Symbionese Liberation Army Member Released From Prison
By Robert Mackey

Updated 12:26 p.m. Sara Jane Olson, a former radical who was a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army in the 1970s, was released on parole on Tuesday in California. Ms. Olson had served nearly seven years in jail for attempting to kill two Los Angeles police officers with pipe bombs in 1975. Ms. Olson had also served a concurrent six-year sentence for second-degree murder in the 1975 shooting death of a customer in a bank robbery.

Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections, told the Associated Press that Olson was released from the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla early on Tuesday.

CNN reports that Jon Opsahl, whose mother Myrna Opsahl was killed during the S.L.A. robbery in 1975, at a branch of Crocker National Bank in Carmichael, Calif., “doesn’t think domestic-terrorist-turned-housewife Sara Jane Olson served nearly enough time for his mother’s murder.” Mrs. Opsahl was killed by a shotgun blast fired by one of Ms. Olson’s accomplices. According to CNN, Mr. Opsahl said: “I’ve really got nothing to say. She did her time, as minimal as that may have been.”

Last week, corrections officials in Minnesota agreed to Ms. Olson’s request to serve her time on parole in that state instead of California. Before she was arrested in 1999, after being featured in an episode of the television program “America’s Most Wanted,” she had lived the life of a soccer mom in Minnesota, using the name Sara Jane Olson. (She born Kathleen Soliah and known by that name in her S.L.A. days.)
Tom Olmscheid/Associated Press Sara Jane Olson playing Susan B. Anthony in 1990.

After her arrest in 1999, details of her life in hiding came out and she was, a Minnesota newspaper noted, “almost canonized: reader of newspapers for the blind, volunteer among victims of torture, organizer of soup kitchens.” She even felt secure enough in her new identity to have appeared, in 1990, in the role of Susan B. Anthony in an amateur theatrical production inside the Minnesota House of Representatives in St. Paul.

Though she has the permission of Minnesota’s corrections department, it is still not entirely clear whether Ms. Olson will be allowed to return to her family there. Last week, The Los Angeles Times reported that the city’s police union had called on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to prevent Ms. Olson from serving her supervised parole outside California.

Referring to Ms. Olson by original name, the head of the police union, Paul Weber, argued that the parole period should be seen as part of her punishment:

“The responsibility to ensure that Ms. Soliah follows each and every requirement of parole is one which should be undertaken by the state of California, not ‘outsourced’ to another state. Ms. Soliah should be allowed to travel to another state when she fulfills her obligations to California, and not a minute before.”

A police union in Minnesota felt the same way, and the state’s governor, Tim Pawlenty, wrote to Gov. Schwarzenegger this week, asking him to block Ms. Olson from leaving California.

Ms. Olson’s lawyer, David Nickerson, defended his client’s request, telling The Associated Press:

“Everyone she knows is in Minnesota. The statute says she’s to be paroled to the place where she has the best chance to succeed. That’s where her family, friends and home are. She’s served her time, she’s paid her debt. Now they want to punish her some more. This is just being vindictive.”

It is not yet clear whether Gov. Schwarzenegger will intervene after Ms. Olson is released today from the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla. On Monday, he seemed inclined to defer to the state corrections department, which has a program allowing prisoners to serve parole time in other states. “We kind of let them continue taking care of those issues, and they will find the right solutions for the problem,” Mr. Schwarzenegger said.

Update 12:26 p.m. A statement posted today on the Web site of the California Department of Corrections suggests that Ms. Olson will be allowed to serve her time on parole in Minnesota. The statement reads, in part:

Olson petitioned to have her parole supervision transferred to Minnesota upon completion of her sentence, so that she could be placed with her husband and family members. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) approved the request. Studies have shown that family reunification is an evidence-based indicator of protecting the public by decreasing recidivism.

The statement also notes: “Olson’s conditions of parole imposed by CDCR include prohibitions against association with former SLA members or co-defendants, and contact with any victims or their family members.”

One sign that California’s corrections department is not always on top of its game, though, is that a year ago the department released Ms. Olson by mistake after miscalculating her parole date. She was with her family for five days before being taken back into custody.

The Symbionese Liberation Army radicals are remembered today mainly for the kidnapping of the heiress Patty Hearst, who then took part in a bank robbery by the group that was captured on security cameras.

In 2002, Chris Suellentrop, who is now an editor at The New York Times Magazine, asked and answered the question What Is the Symbionese Liberation Army? for Slate’s Explainer column. More information about the group, and a full archive of New York Times articles about their activites, is available on the Times Topics page on the Symbionese Liberation Army.

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